Certain anarchists, particularly me, are loathed and reviled for expressing the sentiment that your self-ownership begins at the moment you come into existence, which implies that children have all the same rights as adults.
Some people assume this ideological stance is all about sex, insisting the only reason somebody could ever hold the belief that children are sovereign, and should cease to be treated as second class citizens, is that the person is either a pedophile or a supporter of pedophilia. This couldn't be further from the reality of it. Hear me out, then pass judgement afterwards if you're so inclined.
Firstly, anybody that rapes children can be shot in the face with a bazooka, and I wouldn't be the least bit bothered by it. If i see you forcing yourself onto a child, I might just kill you on the spot myself. The idea that non-aggression includes children is not specifically about sexual consent, it's about ALL autonomy, unconditionally, regardless of the supposed cognitive incapacity of the individual in question. My take on this matter is based not only on ethical consistency as a voluntaryist, but largely my own experience, which I'll skimpily summarize now.
Throughout my entire childhood, my mental health was consistently ripped to shreds by the omnipotent enforcement of my legal status as a "minor". I constantly found myself in circumstances that truly had me on the verge of blowing my brains out, usually stemming from conditions that arose out of my rights to autonomy and self-agency being forcibly overridden by the state. I don't mean the hassles involved in acquiring cigarettes and booze underage. That was annoying too, but the effects of age-based tyranny went well beyond that for me.
Starting at around 7, I was forced by government to continue living in what had become a gruesomely violent, explosively volatile, and emotionally toxic home environment, meanwhile my social comprehension and ability to process behavior were still in early development. I knew that to run away would be met with force by the cops, and to get CPS involved could easily do a lot more harm than good, which at that age I didn't feel equipped to pull the trigger on. I was submerged in a storm of explosive rage from all directions, which set the stage for my value on life being null and increased my propensity for risk taking & lashing out. Subsequently i was forced, for years, to swallow psychoactive drugs that turned me into a miserable zombie. This explosive and violent rage in my family carried on for most of my life, and I wasn't allowed to escape it, because I was 7 (and 8, 9, 10, etc).
When I was 11, I realized the concept of self-ownership. I didn't know the name for it, but I understood fundamentally that only I am in charge of me, authority is make-believe. From the moment I realized this, my life became a fight, me against a world that insists on denying me my most basic human right. Autonomy. It's dangerous to be right when the state is wrong. Child labor laws led me deep into the world of black markets, bringing me to what became an accumulated 8 years of nonstop violence, crippling paranoia, and the complete chaos associated with the illicit drug trade and gang culture. I understand that my involvement in this game was my own choice, but I needed money, and there's no legal way for children to earn a viable income, or at least none that I knew of. My life became defined by fear, fear that I'm about to be robbed & shot, or arrested & caged. I nearly died on more occasions than I can count with my fingers, and I did evil things I'll never fully forgive myself for. As a child. A job would have been a lot better, but to hire me would have been illegal.
At 14, I was forced by custodial law to go to a viciously authoritarian military school full of sadistic teenage tyrants (given "rank"), along with fellow pissed off delinquents. Life became a regimented stream of torture, often literally. Every move I made - including the movement of my eyeballs, and my breathing - was scrutinized, subject to lead to me and my entire squad, platoon, company, or battalion, being harshly and sadistically punished. I had to beat up and stab people just to keep my asshole unfucked, and that was a cake walk compared to the draconian punishments and constant reminders that I am not free, at all. Obviously I didn't wish to be there, but the police will hunt down and abduct any minor that escapes. In hindsight, getting myself put in jail would have been a hell of a lot easier on my body & mind. They pretend it's about turning boys into men, but really they just take young juvenile delinquents and make them into more aggressive and better trained assholes.
At 15, as I was bouncing around from place to place, I wound up living with my grandparents, by court order, while I was on juvenile probation. I had previously been placed on house arrest with my father, but him and I kept getting into fistfights every time he insisted I obey him and I openly refused, which led the state to moving me to my grandparents' home. When my grandparents (understandably) decided they no longer wanted a defiant, drug addicted little career criminal living with them, they called my PO and told her about all the ways they knew I was violating my probation, which got a warrant issued for my arrest. Given the choice between prison and an alternative rehab program, I went with the latter, and spent 2 months living like a nomad outside in the desert. I would actually recommend this program for most serious addicts, or really for anybody looking for a change of perspective, but never by force. What pushed me to using all the damn drugs in the first place was largely the damage done to my mind by the systematic coercion - and its results - that had been dominating me for my entire life.
At 16, I was legally forced to reside in a residential treatment center in the middle of nowhere, busting my ass all day every day as an unpaid agricultural laborer (essentially a slave), figuratively whipped by the legal threat of being sent to a subsidized mental institution for an indefinite period of time. That's the power of custody. "Tend to my cattle or be imprisoned indefinitely, somewhere that profits by not letting you leave". To avoid landing in the looney bin for the rest of my life, I escaped the RTC by making the owner think I have HIV (I don't), so I'd be sent away quickly for my family to get me tested. It worked. As soon as I got back to Baltimore, I retrieved my stashed cash and took off. I had to run away because if I stayed at my mother's home, she would have had me forced, by the state, to go back to being a slave. It's hard to blame her, she was a panicking mother with a self-destructive son, she didn't know what to do, and had been persuaded by a shrink to send me somewhere meant to break me, like a horse. I hit the streets and promptly found myself sleeping on a rat-infested mattress, in an alley in the ghetto, because it's illegal to lease homes or even motel rooms to minors. I was once arrested for living illegally in an abandoned house for the same reason. I was homeless quite a bit throughout my youth because my right to rent was trampled, and I never got along with all the relatives that insisted on micromanaging how I live my life. As a successful drug dealer and gang leader, i had more than enough money to buy or rent a home for myself, but again, nobody will sell or lease to a minor illegally, or at least they won't advertise it, and when I would ask rental offices, they would always turn me away.
At 17, I was tasered and mercilessly beaten, and almost shot, by about 7 sadistic, laughing cops, for about 15 minutes, WHILE I was handcuffed on the ground in my own feces (from the taser). They were making a complete party out of stomping my skull into the ground, kicking my gut, smashing my back, and knocking the wind out of me over and over again. I was then kidnapped and shackled to a bench (still sitting in shit) for several hours, then finally locked away to live in a cage surrounded by other criminals. Just for a pistol (to defend myself in 3rd world Baltimore) while I was "underage" and "without a permit", then instinctively running away when a task force rolled up aiming guns at my face. Had I been older, it could have been legal for me to carry. The state tried to give me up to 18 years in prison for it. If not for my extremely talented lawyer of a stepfather, I'd be in the penn right now. Had I been obeying the age restrictions on guns in the first place, I would have been dead before puberty - a manifestation of my participation in black markets due to child labor laws.
All this and a lot more, just because I was under some stupid fucking arbitrary age line; 18. 21 for certain things.
I'm not looking for sympathy, fuck a pity party, i want you to understand what comes of this mentality of "if you're deemed to lack mental capacity because your brain hasn't developed yet, we get to forcibly protect you from yourself". Only suffering can come of this.
I could have had a calm & happy childhood, and become a healthy & sane adult, if my basic human right to self-agency had not been restricted.
The message I'd been given my entire life, by absolutely everybody, is that I do not own myself. Yeah I know, I'm a rather extreme case, but this is the message given to all children by all cultures. "Do as you're told and trust the adults that know what's best for you. We have the right to force stuff onto you, and you're not allowed to defend yourself or make your own life." That kind of mind fuckery is one of the most influential factors that led me down the path of libertarianism, and eventually full blown anarchism, accompanied by chronic depression. Being a child in today's society is being a second class citizen, thus my hatred of authority was born. Unfortunately, it yields the opposite effect in most children, attracting them to the bloody teat of authoritarianism.
So to me, this is not some small issue, the topic of child autonomy isn't just an exercise in philosophy. I believe very deeply, with all of my being, that recognizing the self-agency rights of children in particular is not only an unconditional moral obligation, but it is arguably the most important step in the strive for liberty. Statism starts in the home. In addition to abolishing government, it is absolutely imperative that we teach our children that they own themselves and that they are personally responsible for their actions, property, agency, and needs. That doesn't mean not to guide them, help them, and teach them; it means not to forcibly impose interpersonal authority onto them. Raise them, don't govern them. If we're to rid society of much of the insanity, authoritarianism, dependence, and anger that enable government, children need to grow up with an understanding that they are not helpless subservients to be ruled, but sovereign individuals to be respected. All it takes is peaceful parenting.
Peaceful parenting doesn't mean you have to let your kids play paintball in your living room - that's your property. It just means NOT threatening them with forcible punishment for behaviors that only harm themselves (or nobody). It means NOT doing anything to your own kids that it would be unacceptable for you to do to your neighbor. It means being a guide, a benefactor, an unconditional ally, and a friend; NOT a ruler. You can have conditions of residence in your home, just as long as you're not forcing anybody to stay with you. Runaway freedom is imperative. If you provide your children with a peaceful and happy home, they will willingly stay until they're truly ready. Without runaway freedom, the home is a prison, and the child grows up engrained with the subsequent mentality of a prisoner. Helplessness, subservience, dependence, hostility, inadequacy, might-makes-right, and a lack of personal accountability, mold the minds of most children, thanks to the absence of personal moral agency native to any child taught to base morality on authority.
Parents are naturally seen as figures of security and moral guidance. When a parent imposes authority onto a child, it creates a deeply held emotional conflation between morality & authority, and between security & authority.
It's not a coincidence that most adults believe that without the presence of some sort of overarching authority ruling society - government - there could be no security nor morality, we would all just run around murdering everybody like maniacs. Interestingly, when presented with the bulletproof economic and logical evidence that this Hobbesian "war of all against all" wouldn't actually be the case, that a free market in security would be substantially stronger and more accountable, and that governments only exacerbate the violence, destruction, and chaos in the world, many adult statists will become furious, enraged, confused, and hysterical, because one of their most fundamental emotional beliefs, that authority = morality & security, has been cracked. Children that develop having a conflation of morality with authority are immensely more likely to harm others and lack personal responsibility as adults, along with developing psychological problems such as anxiety, depression, addiction, and a propensity for violence. To confuse justice with edict is to rationalize anything you can get away with. Hence all the violence. Such inhibits the development of a rational moral compass. The most destructive thing done to most developing minds is society incessantly drilling them, at every turn, with the idea that they are not their own masters. Most of the statism and hatred in the world could be ultimately dissolved merely by treating children as moral equals. This entails respecting the right of children to do whatever they want, short of aggression against others, even when it bothers you and even when the child is making bad decisions. As uncomfortable as this will make you; those decisions can be anything from heroin to prostitution, and that is the child's right. Obviously we don't want children to do such things, we should be using guidance and nonviolent communication to steer children away from such things, which, in the case of heroin and prostitution, can usually be attributed to authoritative or otherwise hostile upbringings. If you want to stop children from making bad decisions, use your words, like an adult, not some apparatus of violence (government).
If push comes to shove, your ownership or rental of your home allows you to have conditions of residence in your home, such as no heroin, and this is technically ethical, but this sort of "obey me or something undesirable will happen to you" injunction; even if that "something" is compliant with the non-aggression principle, such as being evicted, should always be the absolute last resort, as it is still, in the mind of a small child, (or similarly, a communist), felt to be coercive. A responsible adult can see the distinction between "do as I say or I'll hurt you" and "do as I say or I won't offer you things to help you, such as my property", but often children (and entitled Marxists), do not. The steering of children therefore should always, ideally, be based on positive incentive; if you do as I ask, I will reward you with something new. Children raised without hierarchy imposed in the home tend to trust their parents naturally. In the course of my research and my involvement in the anarchist community, I've seen nonviolent communication do some pretty amazing things in peaceful parenting homes, children raised without coercion tend to be substantially happier and more receptive to good advice. No, I don't have to be a parent to have an opinion on this, in fact, the very fact that I'm NOT a parent probably allows me to analyze this matter more objectively than I otherwise could. Then again, I do have a serious emotional attachment to children being free, based on my own experience, so perhaps not. Children are human beings and need to be respected as such, no less than adults, despite lacking the level of cognizance that adults hold, in fact, ESPECIALLY because they lack the cognizance that adults have, because a developing mind adapts, for better or for worse. If you raise a child with coercive hierarchy - comply or be punished - you will almost certainly get a statist (and internally broken) adult. If it's not okay to do something to an adult, it's far worse to do that same thing to a child. Children are destroyed emotionally, in a lasting way, by being dominated, particularly by their own families.
But what of the question of sexual consent?
Are we to assume a toddler saying "ya ya" when asked for sex, is giving any genuine or deliberate consent? Surely not! A "yes" is meaningless if it isn't meaningful. An adult woman might mumble "mhmm" in her sleep, and this too should not be construed as consent to anything. But then how can this matter be settled? How can we prevent toddlers from being raped while at the same time refrain from governing children? The answer is really quite simple: by asking. There's no magic number. If I say "I'm capable of making my own choices, I'm horny, and I want to have sex with that lady, so leave me alone", or something to that tune, I'm clearly and empirically demonstrating that I have ample capacity to give deliberate consent, no matter how young I am - whether I'm 13 or some sort of mutant, super-intelligent infant - and for you to assert otherwise, and enforce it against me, is a violation of my most basic of rights - autonomy; executive control of my own body. This matter can be resolved by asking the potential incompetent what it is they're trying to do, to see if they're actually giving meaningful consent. Clearly a toddler who doesn't know what sex is won't be able to explain what it is they're allegedly consenting to. This principle only becomes relevant when there's a dispute between child and adult in which the child is asserting his/her right of self-ownership and the adult disagrees. In such a case, the child is always in the right.
From a deontological perspective, any prerequisite of age to the right of autonomy, can only be wholly arbitrary and subjective, therefore impermissible in any dispute regarding the use of force. In any court case between a child and an adult in which the adult claims "that child is not able nor entitled to make his/her own decisions, therefore I get to use force to control the child", and the child's position is something along the lines of "yes I am entitled to make my own decisions, and no you don't get to use force to control me, I own myself and you aren't the boss of me", the child should automatically win. Ultimately, that's the most likely situation in which my point here becomes truly becomes relevant, as in this statist paradigm; it is the courts recognizing of some right to govern children based on their age that enables the egregious tyranny against children that plagues the modern world. In a stateless society, the courts would have no real choice but to base their findings on objective ethical science (another topic for another day, look out for my book "The Science of Morality" in the future), and there is no room for arbitrary and irrational rules, such as an age restriction, in an objective science. If full cognitive development were the line, the age of consent would be 25. That means all blissful and loving sex I've experienced, thousands of times, throughout my 21 years of existence, would have been automatically rape, and potentially treated as such. If you're 25 or under, the same applies to you. The method of asking the person whether he/she consents, and what exactly is being consented to, allows any such matter to be resolved rationally, without imposing any arbitrary age restrictions against anybody; without violating anybody's rights.
That's my piece. If all you want to take away from that is "he must want to fuck kids", then you lack cognitive capacity more than any child I've ever met. If you are a parent, or one day will be; I hope to encourage you to try a non-authoritarian, peaceful approach to raising your children. A childhood of coercion produces psychos like me.